Special Maps of Persia, 1477-1925 (Handbook of Oriental Studies)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Author: Cyrus Alai

Hardcover: 466 pages
Publisher: Brill Academic Pub (October 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9004184015
ISBN-13: 978-9004184015
Category: Middle East and Islamic Studies - General
BIC2: Islam, Reference works


Since ancient times Iran or Persia as it was known in the West, has been mapped extensively. The world’s oldest known topographical map is a clay tablet from 2300 BC, showing a part of western Persia. Persian geographers, like Balkhi, Estakhri, Zakariya Qazvini and others, were the main contributors to the thriving field of cartography throughout the early Islamic period (eighth to fourteenth centuries). Ptolemy’s fifth map of Asia, which depicts Persia, appeared in all the 59 editions of Geographia, published between 1477 and 1730. Gastaldi produced the first post-Ptolemaic map of Persia in 1559 in Venice, which served as the basis of many later maps for about a century. The first notable innovation in this field came to light when Olearius in his New Map of Persia (1646) changed the Ptolemaic oval shape of the Caspian Sea to an upright rectangle, correcting the latitude of the Northern provinces. His map influenced the cartography of Persia for seven decades, until a full Russian survey of the Caspian was carried out in 1720. Dutch, French and German cartographers were all active in mapping Persia. However, it was their British counterparts who succeeded during the nineteenth century to improve the mapping of Persia considerably, based on new surveys, including those carried out by the Survey of India. Some of these maps were politically motivated, showing Baluchistan as a separate state until 1872, when the Goldsmid Commission settled the eastern boundaries of the country. The Pahlavis established several new cartographic institutions in Iran, as a result of which numerous modern maps of the country and its provinces were produced locally from 1930s until the present time.


Five years ago, the prestigious Dutch academic publishing house Koninklijke Brill published Dr. Cyrus Alai's pioneer volume, General Maps of Persia. The book arrived to much acclaim in the history of cartography community, and rightly so. This second volume is in every way a worthy companion to the first - its equal in its superb scholarship, excellent graphics, and physical durability. In some it represents a greater achievement than the first work, because this book takes on a more difficult challenge. General Maps laid the basic foundation for the study of the history of cartography of Persia by studying maps which depicted the entire country. The second book takes on the depth and complexity of the history of the cartography of Persia, exploring aspects which are much less well known. Nine areas are covered: (1) historical maps (depicting empires and events long before the creation on the map itself); (2) district maps (portions or provinces of Persia); (3) the Caspian and its Persian shores; (4) the Persian Gulf, Persian shores, and Persian islands; (5) maps of the Persian frontier; (6) route maps within Persia; (7) town maps and historical sites; (8) political/military, transport/communication, and tribal maps; and (9) topographical and geological maps. Most of these have never been explored elsewhere; the Persian Gulf is an exception. Many of the cartographers in General Maps are well known, many of those in Special Maps are not.

These two books were never intended to be complete listings of all general or special maps of Iran. They are instead designed to be definitive, descriptive lists of the most important works in each category. This is no small task. Special Maps contains 757 entries, chosen from among over 1500 maps considered, of which 409 are illustrated. It has 466 pages, and weighs over nine pounds. This is much larger than General Maps, with its 415 entries, 199 plates, and 317 pages, weighing "only" seven pounds. It is quite easy to amass data; transforming that data into usable information is a more daunting task, at which Alai succeeds admirably. Its detailed table of contents, useful preface, chronological index, and alphabetical indices are very helpful. What might have otherwise been an impenetrable mass of data thus becomes a readily accessible and highly valuable resource. Like its predecessor, Special Maps of Persia is destined to be a landmark reference book for decades to come.

Subjects: History › Middle East  › General

History / Middle East / General
Reference / Almanacs
Reference / Bibliographies & Indexes
Reference / General
Technology & Engineering / Cartography
Travel / Maps & Road Atlases


This volume complements the best-seller and award-winning General Maps of Persia, praised by Dr. John Hébert, Chief of the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress: This carefully researched work is a must have item in any collection of research materials on the history of cartography... I cannot wait for the arrival of subsequent volumes of further great scholarship and readable map reproductions on other detailed aspects of the history of mapping of Persia. Encouraged by numerous commending reviews in five languages English, French, German, Persian and Armenian and gratifying testimonials from many renowned authorities in the fields of History of Cartography and Iranian Studies , Cyrus Alai continued his research and collected further material to produce the present volume: Special Maps of Persia, 1477-1925, covering every map of that region, other than general maps. Thus, it not only complements the General Maps of Persia, it is also a completely new volume in its own right and, providing an even closer insight into the region. The book is divided into nine chapters: Historical Maps, District Maps, Frontier Maps, Town Maps, Political Maps etc. Like the preceding volume, it has a dual character, being both a carto-bibliography and a mapping history of Persia. It contains 761 map-entries, of which 409 are illustrated, mostly in colour. Concise related historical accounts precede every chapter and section, and essential historical notes are also supplied within many of the map entries.Undoubtedly, this book is a treasure house not just for cartographers, but also historians, social historians, linguists and archaeologists.

About the Author

Cyrus Alai was born in Iran and received his Ph.D. degree (Dr.-Ing.) from 'Die Technische Universität, Berlin-Charlottenburg'. He founded a group of engineering companies in Iran which he directed for twenty years, and he also lectured at the University of Teheran for eight years. Dr. Alai settled later in England, working as a consulting engineer and at the same time studying the history of cartography and collecting old maps of Persia. He has written numerous articles on 'the cartography of Persia' and 'the traditional cartography of classical Islamic societies', including the entry 'Geography: Cartography of Persia' for the Encyclopaedia Iranica.

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